A first-place return to racing

A few weeks ago I made the decision to race the WEMS Metro Challenge event.  It was about time for me to get back in the racing saddle after taking a 2 ½ year break, and the race was going to be held at Crystal Ridge Ski Hill, which is one of my favorite courses from the WORS series.

The two-hour drive up allowed me plenty of time to daydream. I wondered how many laps I could finish in three hours, how many other women would be in the race, where I might be able to finish, and whether I would be able to go all-out for three hours in 90-degree heat. But regardless of the outcome, I knew I would have fun.

When I finally arrived at the course and spotted the HAC tent, I received a very enthusiastic welcome from Erica (Julie was racing her lap) and immediately sensed the laidback vibe of the WEMS series.  In fact, the organizers were so accommodating that they allowed Julie and Erica to compete in the Women’s 12-Hour Duo even though the HAC ladies missed the “official” start time by a few hours. Now that’s what I call hospitality!

Within a few minutes Julie completed her first lap and then Erica pedaled away for her turn.  Julie then did me the favor of scoping out my competition and concluded that the field looked pretty small: only three women, including myself would be competing in the 3-Hour Solo. Julie offered that the small turnout was likely due to some series riders attending a MTB skills clinic that day with Alison Dunlap instead of racing WEMS.

Regardless, a race is a race no matter how many people show up, so I proceeded to get ready for the start. I didn’t do much of a warm up because it was more fun hanging out with Julie and Erica.  As a result, the uphill start left me a little winded. But after the first climb we were rewarded with a super-fast downhill, complete with switchbacks, which proved to be a nice rest for the legs and a lot of fun!

Next up was the best part: the tight and twisty single-track that I could ride all day, followed by some flat double track and more single-track along the river.  And then it was on to the long climb aptly named “Craters of the Moon” due to the loose dirt, rocks and uneven surfaces that seemed to suck the life out of my legs on every lap.

Immediately following the craters was a nice wide-open breezy section (finally, some air) followed by a 2-way gravel path where I clumsily dropped my water bottle on the third lap but forced myself to double back to retrieve it—which cost me some time but was well worth it because I managed to down the rest of it before the lap was even over. The last half of the loop included a short jaunt across the top of the ski hill, a dip back down into the single-track, finished off by an open grassy section that looped back around to the start/finish. A great course!

I completed four laps in 2 hours and 33 minutes, and found myself wondering whether I could hammer out another lap in the 27 minutes remaining. I did the quick math and figured that I would need a miracle to reduce my fastest lap time by enough to finish under the 3-hour cut off.  As if reading my mind, one of the judges calmly suggested that I just “put it in the big gear” and go for it. While I appreciated the sentiment, instead I declared loudly that I was “done” and headed for the shade of the HAC tent.

Overall, I had a great time at the Metro Challenge. The HAC ladies earned first place wins in our respective races, and Julie made a really cool observation that every woman who entered the race that day won something.  (That something was a certificate and a big bottle of Fat Tire beer.)  I also met a couple of new folks (HAC friend Mike Hemme placed third in the Men’s 3-Hour Solo), chatted with an old friend and simply enjoyed hanging with my teammates for some long overdue mountain bike racing fun. What more could a girl ask for?

 -Kristina Meinig